Christianity 201

January 16, 2012

Confession, Belief, Security

Bill Mounce is a regular at Koinonia, where this exposition of Romans 10:9 appeared last week.

Something occurred to me this morning, and I am curious as to what you think about it. It actually has far reaching ramifications.

If you have been following this blog, then you know that I have been thinking about what is a Christian, how do we define it. Specifically, I have been looking for a balance between Jesus’ “Follow me” and the more propositional statements of Paul.

An example of the later is Rom 10:9. Paul is talking about the nearness of the word of faith and says, “if you confess (ὁμολογήσῃς) with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe (πιστεύσῃς) in your heart that  God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes (πιστεύεται) and is made righteous, and with the mouth he confesses (ὁμολογεῖται) and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10).

Here is my question. I have always thought of this confession and believing more in terms of a single event, namely, conversion, going through the gate (Matt 7:13-14). But does it have to be limited to this?

Doug Moo in his commentary says, “Paul is therefore explaining the ‘nearness’ of the word of faith, the gospel, by emphasizing that it demands only a simple response and that, when responded to, it mediates God’s salvation” (657).

Now, certainly this is true of conversion, which is coming to a point of confessing and believing. But I wonder if Paul would agree with the sentiment that a person could make a one-time confession, and later deny his confession, and still be saved. I wonder if Paul would agree that a person could come to a point of faith, and later deny his faith, and still be saved.

I can find no such teaching in Paul. 

Nor can I find it in Jesus. In fact, he has some pretty strong words to say on the subject. For example, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [i.e., to not confess Jesus’ Lordship], of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels [i.e., to distance in judgment]” (Mark 8:38).

I wonder if we should continue to see the importance of the first time we confess and believe, when we are made righteous and are saved, and yet realize that in the fullest sense of the words, Christians are people who confess Christ and people who believe in the resurrection. If we cease to confess and if we cease to believe, then we can no longer legitimately be called Christians, believers, followers of Christ.

As far as the Greek is concerned the aorists ὁμολογήσῃς and πιστεύσῃς don’t really help us. The aorist is not necessarily punctiliar; it does not necessarily point to a single point in time. Thankfully we are far beyond that view of the aorist. In fact, if these are constative aorists, they could nicely cover the entire range of our lives. And πιστεύεται and ὁμολογεῖται are present tense.

At this point I don’t want to say that this is necessarily what Paul is teaching in Rom 10. But Calvin and Wesley are both in agreement that if a person does not continue in their confession of Christ and belief in his (death and) resurrection, they can hardly be called Christian.

And as I have often argued, whether they never were true Christians or lost their salvation is a nearly irrelevant question, since in either case the person ends up in hell.

William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill’s other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at www.billmounce.com

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